Honesty and the online review

A negative customer review can have a massive impact. Are companies stacking the deck?

By Kathryn Casey

People are chatting. Twittering. Liking. Sharing. Commenting. Reviewing. And if there’s one thing that gets a discussion going, it’s a negative consumer experience. For companies and businesses, a bad review can be a reputation killer. And yet, an overly positive review not only looks suspicious, it can prompt a less-than-satisfied customer to share their bad experience. Once those reviews and comments are online, they stay there.

Going somewhere?

We’ve seen it on TripAdvisor, a consumer review site launched in 2000 that has become one of the world’s most comprehensive travel resources. With around 41.6 million hits each month and over 40 million reviews, it’s a sea of good and bad experiences – and no listing is immune to criticism.

If a negative review is posted, hoteliers and restaurateurs have the right of reply – but the post won’t be removed. Though TripAdvisor claims to monitor the site and remove dubious reviews, people have the right to say what they want – it’s an open forum.

Stacking the deck

However, some hoteliers and restaurateurs have suffered as a result of slating reviews. But it’s not just the hospitality haters who are creating a problem. Some establishments have been accused of posting bogus positive reviews and even paying to have them written to increase bookings or counter negative reviews.

Kira Cochrane, a features writer for The Guardian, describes TripAdvisor as both “brilliant and annoying,” and that the reviews are a “celebration of consumer power, of the right for everyone’s opinion to be heard and accorded equal weight,” but this is countered by the “bewildering contradictions in its reviews.”

Either way, the extreme reviews confuse users, discredit the site and defeat its purpose – booking travel services based on other people’s experiences and opinions.

Online sanitation services

So it’s no surprise that fake five-star and defamatory reviews have spawned a whole new industry – online reputation management. Chris Emmins, co-founder of KwikChex, a UK-based online reputation services company, recently claimed, “Some of the reviews on TripAdvisor appear to be just fake, or certainly contain completely untrue statements. Some are suspect and some fall into legitimate fair comment.”

Emmins is currently helping 420 paid members of KwikChex to present their grievances to TripAdvisor. If the worst complaints are not removed within 14 days, Emmins is proposing a potential group defamation action. Ouch.

Damage control or too much control?  

There are a host of companies like KwikChex helping brands and companies boost, restore and protect their online reputations. Lonely companies can buy fake Facebook friends for 10 pence each, or pay to have “watchdogs” monitor their brand online to counter any negative activity that could damage a brand that’s cost a fortune to develop.

But doesn’t this behavior challenge what social media is all about – the conversation? If people risk being sued for their opinions on open social forums, the conversation will eventually stop.

And what are the limits of online reputation management? If a company needs to buy friends or pay to have their reputation monitored, is it doing something fundamentally wrong?

Yes, fake reviews – good or bad – can destroy a reputation and ruin a business. But as consumers, it’s still up to us to post honest reviews, weigh the negative against the positive and make our own decisions. Or, perhaps do something that’s becoming increasingly rare: just follow our intuition.




4 Responses to “Honesty and the online review”

  1. david says:

    Here’s another example of the dangers, and power, of TripAdvisor.

  2. Dan says:

    One positive thing about TripAdvisor? It does make you appreciate the value of a specialist reviewer.

    I chanced upon a review of my local Italian restaurant on TripAdvisor that gave the restaurant only one star because it was not a good place for a romantic meal. A specialist reviewer would have forgot romance and concentrated on the fact that it’s a fantastically family friendly restaurant run by a very friendly Italian family.

    Perhaps fake reviews are not the biggest issue. Perhaps the biggest issue is that we now tend to trust real consumers over specialist reviewers, and forget that real consumers can sometime also be idiots.

  3. Kathryn says:

    That’s the double-edged sword that is TripAdvisor.

    The review might discourage people looking for a romantic meal, but hopefully, people who like the place for it’s friendliness have posted comments and given the restaurant a few more stars.

  4. Michael Best says:

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